APA style multi-line table and figure numbering with Word Captions

This question was sent to me, and I thought the solution deserves a blog post, since if one person is struggling with this, there are bound to be more.

The APA seventh edition requires table and figure captions to look like this (amongst others):

number: The table number (e.g., Table 1) appears above the table [or below the figure] title and body in bold font. Number tables/figures in the order in which they are mentioned in your paper.

title: The table/figure title appears one double-spaced line below the table/figure number. Give each table/figure a brief but descriptive title, and capitalize the table/figure title in italic title case.

There is no need to get into a debate about whether this change from previous editions is warranted, etc. It is the current guideline, and most students (I think rightly, on this point), couldn’t care less about whether this looks better than what was recommended in previous editions—they just want to get it done.

So here’s how.

The problem

The problem, of course, is that Word uses the Caption style for table and figure (and other) captions. And the Caption style is a paragraph style. But now we need a multi-paragraph caption. And if we format all those paragraphs with the caption style, they will appear as multiple paragraphs in the List of Tables/Figures.

The solution

Note. The images below show non-printing characters. I do explain in detail in my book why you should be working with these on, and this post is a good example.

As with so many things in Word, the solution lies simply in recognizing that we don’t actually need a multi-paragraph caption, we just need our results to look like a multi-paragraph caption. And in Word, you can sometimes create exactly the look you want using some surprising tools. For example, in my book I recommend using (borderless, and thus invisible) tables to align complex components (e.g., multi-part figures) on a page (although this should be done sparingly). This is another example of using a tool (a tab, in this case) to create an effect that looks as if it was produced by another tool (a line/paragraph break).

We want the whole single caption paragraph to contain, on its first line, the number, and then on subsequent lines, the title. Also, the font (bold, not italic) of the number portion (the word “Table/Figure” followed by a space and an Arabic numeral) is different to that of the title (not bold, italic).

The trick is to realise that in a normal caption paragraph, the number is separated from the title by a tab. Normally, this tab is just a little wider that the full number portion (e.g., “Title 123”), so that it creates a uniform placement on the page for the start of the title portion (i.e., whether the number is 1, 12, or 123, the exact point from the left margin where the title portion starts remains constant). All we have to do is set the width of that tab to the inter-margin width of the page, and it forces the title portion onto the next line, making it look as if it is in a new paragraph. Then we use a character font to change the formatting of the number portion (a bit of a nuisance, that!), and we are done.

The steps

In your document or template file, add a caption. Note in Figure 1 that the paragraph is formatted with the Caption style and that the ruler shows that the width between the margins is 16.5cm. what is harder to see is that the tab ends at 2.54cm. The reason for this is Word’s default half-inch tab stop width which is converted to 1.27cm. Since the word “Table” with its following space extends past 1.27cm, the tab stop takes it to the next increment—one full inch, or 2.54cm. I have opened the tabs dialog to make this obvious.

Figure 1   Table caption

First we want to set the Caption style itself. The simplest at this point is probably to open the Styles pane (Ctrl+Alt+Shift+S), since we will want to use it again below. In the Styles pane, right click on the Caption style, and select Modify… (Figure 2).

Figure 2   Styles pane—Modify caption style

In the Modify Style dialog (Figure 3), set the font to italic and the paragraph spacing to double line spacing. If you are working in a document that is based on your template file, then remember to select the New documents based on this template option to carry the change through to your template, making this a permanent fix for all future documents based on this template.

Figure 3   Modify Styles dialog—Caption style

Next, in the same dialog, select Format, Tabs… (Figure 4).

Figure 4   Format Tabs

In the Tabs dialog (Figure 5), set a 16.5cm left tab stop (you may need to adjust this based on your actual page width and margin sizes).

Figure 5   Tabs dialog

OK all the dialogs, and you will get the result shown in Figure 6.

Figure 6   Caption paragraph, double-spaced (incorrect)

There is one problem evident in this, and that is that the tab is actually now introducing an extra (double-spaced) line. Anyone with experience of Word’s tabs will know that this is easily fixed by typing a single space after the tab (highlighted in Figure 7—it is visible because I have non-printing characters displayed).

Figure 7   Caption paragraph, double-spaced

Next, to create the character style, select the “Table 1” text and the tab after it in your document, and, in the Styles pane, select New Style (Figure 8).

Figure 8   New Style

In the Create New Style for Formatting dialog (Figure 9—the same dialog as in Figure 3, just with a new title), I chose to add the name Caption Number so that this new style will be closely associated with the Caption style in the Styles pane, set the Style type as a Character style, and then set the font as bold and italic. Why italic? Well, in one of Word’s little idiosyncrasies, the character style is applied on top of the existing paragraph style, almost as if the attribute is set (or clicked, if you want) each time. Since bold and italic are toggles, the paragraph style “sets” italic formatting on, and the character style then “sets” italic style off.

Figure 9   Create New Style from Formatting dialog

This produces our end result, which agrees with what the APA style definition requires (Figure 10).

Figure 10 Properly formatted Table caption

And lastly, since the List of Tables (created with the Insert Table of Figures tool) uses the Table of Figures style, which has its own tab widths, the wide (16.5cm) tab stop created above is negated in favour of a more reasonable tab width in the List of Tables (Figure 11).

Figure 11   List of Tables

And that is how it is done. It may seem complicated, but it really is actually a simple and efficient workaround. Once this has been done, you can add your table and figure captions as before, and all you have to do is the (somewhat annoying) extra step of applying the character font over the number to get it looking as it should.


Table styles and multiple-row table headers

This post might present you with something small, to which you say: “I can’t believe he didn’t know that,” or it may just show you something so deceptively simple that you end up saying “I can’t believe I’ve missed that all these years—it’s so obvious, but simultaneously so counter-intuitive.” So this post won’t be “up there” on the Wow-factor scale, but it may just simplify one little aspect of working with tables for you, I hope.

As readers of my book will know, I am a (cautious) fan of Word’s table styles. Cautious, because while they can drastically ease and speed up the process of creating multiple uniformly formatted tables, they take some getting used to, and you can just as easily do something wrong and “blow up” your tables if you don’t know what you’re doing.

One of the nice things about table styles is that you can set formatting for the table as a whole, and then for each specific constituent part of the table (Figure 1). You can specify individual (and thus differing) formatting for:

  • Whole table
  • Header row
  • Total row
  • First column
  • Last column
  • Odd banded rows
  • Even banded rows
  • Odd banded columns
  • Even banded columns
  • Top left cell
  • Top right cell
  • Bottom left cell
  • Bottom right cell

Figure 1    Choosing which portion of the table formatting is specified for

This feature makes table styles very flexible: Note the group of Table Style Options on the far left of the Table Tools: Design ribbon (Figure 2). These setting, as it were, turn the differentiations you specified in the process of defining the various elements of your table style, on and off. Thus, if you specified a bold header row, then the text in the header row will only be bold if the Header Row check box in this group is selected. If not, then the text in the header row will appear as defined for the whole table.

Figure 2    Table style options

Probably the most-used of these various constituent parts is the Header Row (and probably then First Column after that). It stands to reason that the Header row formatting applies to the first (i.e., top) row of the table. However, here we have a dilemma. What if you have specified a certain header row formatting, but some of your tables have headers that span two (or three) rows?

Once you see it, it is obvious, but it’s one of those things that is so obvious that we (myself included) often overlook them. You should know that the Repeat Header Rows function (Figure 3) can be used for multiple rows. This setting is used if you have long tables that span more than a single page, as it allows the header row(s) of the table to be repeated on each successive page.

Figure 3    Repeat Header Rows

The interesting thing (and this is not necessarily intuitive, and has not, to my knowledge, been documented by Microsoft), is that turning this setting on with multiple rows selected, even when your table does not span multiple pages, will instruct Word to treat all selected rows as header rows, and Word will then apply the header row formatting to all of those rows. Et violà!


Yes, there’s a catch. This works fine for settings like font settings, shading, even repeating header rows. But it doesn’t work for borders. So if you want, for example, only a bottom border and have that set on your header row formatting, then when you do this with multiple rows, each row will have the bottom border, not only the lowest one as you might have hoped. That will require a manual fix, unfortunately.